Minimalist Tiki

The Mai-Kai restoration work expands, sneak previews offered at The Hukilau (May 2024 update)

Updated June 10

As The Mai-Kai prepares for an invasion of Hukilau villagers this week, the expansive restoration project continues to engulf the 2.7-acre historic property. Passholders treated to special tours will see several of the fully restored indoor guest areas, but the massive parking lot project remains in low gear until all the permits are in place.

Since our last update at the end of April, several projects have advanced while others await a green light to take flight. The new kitchen, bar and back-of-house areas continue to come to life while creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller and his team add their finishing touches. They also continue to restore, replicate and reimagine many other areas across the property.

A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway. At right you can see the work being done to restore the rock work. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, May 2024)
A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway. At right you can see the work being done to restore the rock work. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, May 2024)

The Hukilau offers guided tours of The Mai-Kai

Multi-day passholders attending the long-running Tiki weekender will get exclusive guided tours of The Mai-Kai on Friday, June 7. [See previous coverage] They will be escorted in small groups, allowing for a unique glimpse into the day-to-day operations of the renovation crew.

Upon arrival, tour attendees will receive a restoration update as they gather in The Molokai bar for a cocktail. They will then break into smaller groups for a behind-the-scenes sneak peek at some of the restored dining rooms and reimagined back-of-house areas.

There will be a strict “no photos” policy inside The Mai-Kai. The owners and staff request that guests respect their desire to be the ones to reveal their finished work. The creative director suggests the proper mindset: “Just take it in with your eyes, and know that you’ve seen something that nobody else has seen.” The tours will be given by Allsmiller, artist Scott “Flounder” Scheidly, manager Kern Mattei, and yours truly. I hope to see you there!

The Hukilau 2024 preview & flashback: Inside (and outside) The Mai-Kai with Tiki carver Will Anders
The Hukilau 2024 preview & flashback: Inside (and outside) The Mai-Kai with Tiki carver Will Anders
The South Florida artist will share his experiences creating authentic Polynesian art – both large and small – during a presentation on June 8 at the annual Tiki weekender on Pompano Beach.
Audio & photos Walking tour with Will Anders, Kern Mattei, Hurricane Hayward in 2018
More on The Hukilau: Symposiums, vendors and more announced for 22nd Tiki weekender June 6-9

Latest news on the restoration

Operating under these same photo guidelines, we visited the restaurant in late May to get an update on the $15 million project that kicked off in early 2022 following the partnership between the founding Thornton family and a new ownership team led by historic preservationist Bill Fuller of Barlington Group. The sale was necessary after a catastrophic back-of-house roof collapse in October 2020 that destroyed the 1970s-era kitchen in the 67-year-old facility.

We got an update on the new kitchen and bar from Mattei, the longtime manager, plus news from Allsmiller on his projects. Photos of the outdoor area also show some slow progress on prep work for the ambitious reimagination of the entry experience and parking lot.

Recent Mai-Kai coverage
* The Mai-Kai reveals new images, plans for restoration at Orlando event, continues $15M project (April 2024 update)
* Mai-Kai kitchen and bar take shape as team heads to Tiki-a-Go-Go (March 2024)
Story archive: Full coverage of The Mai-Kai refurbishment

Lamp project nearing home stretch

At left is a finished lamp, shared on Instagram by Scott "Flounder" Scheidly on May 16. "There’s still a ton of work to do at The Mai Kai but I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel," he wrote. Fellow artist Tom Fowner shared the photo at right that shows the condition of some of the massive hanging lamps in the showroom, before and after restoration.
At left is a finished lamp, shared on Instagram by Scott “Flounder” Scheidly on May 16. “There’s still a ton of work to do at The Mai Kai but I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he wrote. Fellow artist Tom Fowner shared the photo at right that shows the condition of some of the massive hanging lamps in the showroom, before and after restoration.

Among the project updates from Mattei and Allsmiller:

  • All of the lifts and scaffolding have been removed from the showroom, signaling the end of the huge project to restore all of the lamps in the upper reaches of the A-frame that dates back to the 1956 opening. Every light was touched in some fashion. In the rear Tonga Room, new and refurbished Tiki birds are back in their cages.

  • The gift shop’s wood floor is fully restored, awaiting the reimagination of the merchandise displays. The exclusive new window into the back bar is finished.

  • The handicapped restroom’s design is nearly finished, with gold fixtures and a special carving installed. The nautical theme is similar to the men’s room, but much more ornate.

  • The Mai-Kai’s veteran painting crew returned, working throughout the restroom and gift shop area. The women’s restroom is also getting finishing touches on all of the fixtures.

The entrance to The Mai-Kai, as seen from Federal Highway. The reimagined driveway will curve to the right of the banyan trees. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, May 2024)
The entrance to The Mai-Kai, as seen from Federal Highway. The reimagined driveway will curve to the right of the banyan trees. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, May 2024)

In the new kitchen and back bar, electric, water and gas lines are being connected, Mattei said. Crews working for the contractor are hooking up all the new equipment, including state-of-the-art combi ovens. Electricians and plumbers have been busy with the total reimagination of the back-of-house infrastructure. The kitchen and bar will serve the hundreds of guests in the dining rooms.

The behind-the-scenes work includes new men’s and women’s locker rooms, which are also getting finishing design touches from Allsmiller. Both now feature koa wood from Hawaii and have their own unique theme (red “fire” for women, blue “water” for men) and custom tile work.

Artists take service bar to a new level

In the reimagined back bar, Allsmiller’s fellow artists Scheidly and Tom Fowner have stepped up to give the formerly utilitarian space the same exotic look as the front of house.

A restored privacy fence not only keeps The Molokai and its signature water windows hidden from view, it helps provide a deeply immersive experience in the bar. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, May 2024)
A restored privacy fence not only keeps The Molokai and its signature water windows hidden from view, it helps provide a deeply immersive experience in the bar. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, May 2024)

Even something as mundane as the coffee station received an elaborate artistic flourish. Allsmiller said he and Fowner created a huge wall of carved wood similar to the custom bar. “He pretty much ran with it,” Allsmiller said of Fowner. “It’s all just kind of pieced together and then we strategically had things cover the seams.”

In The Molokai, which also features a back bar hidden from view of guests, much of the vintage tile work has been restored, Mattei said. The restoration of the guest area has been complete for some time, but a lot of infrastructure work had to be done to the 1970s-era bar and kitchen. When it receives its new equipment, it will serve not only bar patrons, but also help supply a new outdoor seating area under the porte-cochère with cocktails and food.

In front of The Molokai, a new outdoor deck has received a coat of stain as work continues on this reimagined area. Chains will be installed on the wooden posts, similar to those in the rear Tiki Garden, Mattei said. The back door and deck will provide new access to the porte-cochère bar.

The area just outside the rear door from The Molokai bar is being reimagined as a deck. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, May 2024)
The area just outside the rear door from The Molokai bar is being reimagined as a deck. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, May 2024)

Restored Tiki Garden will be fully accessible

Work on walkways is also underway in the back gardens. Stairs have been replaced by a ramp leading to the rear exit to the outdoor Lani, Mattei said, setting the stage for a fully accessible path through the Tiki Garden. Heavy equipment operators are tearing out all of the old cement sidewalks.

“Brand new walkways are going in,” Mattei said. The winding path through the tropical landscape and dozens of torches and Tiki carvings will be upgraded with themed pavement that will simulate dirt.

All the steps are being removed, so the entire area will be fully ADA-compliant, he said. This means it will accessible to anyone with a disability.

Mattei said the plan is for the concrete crews to finish the job at the same time they’re working on the parking lot and other outdoor projects.

New water lines for irrigation are being installed along the new walls that run along Northeast 20th Avenue in the rear of The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, May 2024)
New water lines for irrigation are being installed along the new walls that run along Northeast 20th Avenue in the rear of The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, May 2024)

Progress outdoors is being held up by pending approval of a new elaborate system of gas lines to power Tiki torches across the property. Once that happens, work is expected to ramp up considerably.

Large landscape work imminent in parking lot

In the meantime, landscape work has begun as crews dig trenches and lay irrigation pipes throughout the rear parking area. A new irrigation system will support the lush landscaping that will run along the back wall.

We also spotted a BrightView Landscape Development truck on the property. BrightView is an industry leader with projects spanning commercial, residential, retail, sports and many large public and private sites from coast to coast. Other examples of the company’s work in Florida include Marlins Park, Miami Beach Soundscape, and Legoland.

BrightView Landscape is one of several major firms that will help transform The Mai-Kai's parking and outdoor spaces. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, May 2024)
BrightView Landscape is one of several major firms that will help transform The Mai-Kai’s parking and outdoor spaces. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, May 2024)

Later, as the landscaping project kicks into high gear, we’ll also see the work of COST of Wisconsin, a theme and specialty construction company. Special themed features – such as custom rock work and calderas – will be handled by the respected company that has over the past 60 years created similar features for zoos, theme parks, resorts, museums, restaurants and many other projects worldwide.

The vision and design of all of the outdoor spaces across the property was created by landscape architecture and thematic design firm Perry-Becker Design from Orlando. Perry-Becker has worked on many resort and theme park projects throughout Florida and the Caribbean, most notably recent enhancements to Disney World’s Polynesian Village Resort.
Recent coverage: New entry experience will envelop guests in exotic landscaping, Polynesian culture

Timeline: Some permits pushed back to September

As for an estimated timeframe for the reopening of The Mai-Kai, it’s looking more and more like late summer or early fall if you go by the permits on file with the city of Oakland Park.

Underground utilities work has begun next to the banyan trees outside the porte-cochère and entrance to The Mai-Kai. This likely involves the installation of a new outdoor bar planned for the area. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, June 2024)
Underground utilities work has begun next to the banyan trees outside the porte-cochère and entrance to The Mai-Kai. This likely involves the installation of a new outdoor bar planned for the area. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, June 2024)

For the first time, we’re seeing some permits rescheduled to expire in September. The permits for fire suppression and the kitchen hood system, previously set to expire in June, have been pushed to Sept. 3. Expect to see more work that was originally planned to end in June also get new dates as the delayed gas line approval holds up other projects. Most of the other permits remained relatively unchanged from last month.

Be assured, nobody is dragging their feet. It’s just a matter of the size and scope of the project having a ripple effect whenever one important piece of the puzzle is delayed. We’ll continue to share the latest news as we find out more.

Until then, it will be great to see the reaction of the several hundred Hukilau villagers who will be treated to an inside view of the restoration work this week. Next year at this time, we’ll be back inside The Molokai and the showroom enjoying all the Hukilau festivities as we have since the event came to South Florida in 2003.

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MORE ON THE MAI-KAI

The Mai-Kai official sites and social media
MaiKai.com | Facebook | Instagram
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RECENT COVERAGE FROM THE ATOMIC GROG

APRIL 2024

The Mai-Kai reveals new images, plans for restoration at Orlando event, continues $15M project (April 2024 update)
The Mai-Kai reveals new images, plans for restoration at Orlando event, continues $15M project (April 2024 update)
Full coverage of the panel discussion at Tiki-a-Go-Go, including new photos and renderings of plans for the reimagination of the entry experience at the historic restaurant.

MARCH 2024

Mai-Kai kitchen and bar take shape as team heads to Tiki-a-Go-Go event (March 2024 update)
Mai-Kai kitchen and bar take shape as team heads to Tiki-a-Go-Go
New equipment is now being installed in the rebuilt back-of-house at the historic South Florida restaurant.

FEBRUARY 2024

Mai-Kai update (February 2024): Exterior reimagination up next as $15 million Mai-Kai project plows ahead
Exterior reimagination up next as $15 million Mai-Kai project plows ahead
The historic South Florida restaurant prepares for an ambitious transformation of its sprawling 2.7-acre grounds.

JANUARY 2024

Mai-Kai update (January 2024): Renovations engulf entire property, reopening estimated for summer
Renovations engulf entire property, reopening estimated for summer
Extensive infrastructure work moves underground, artists expand scope of restoration as project points toward completion by middle of the year.

The Mai-Kai Restoration Guide
EXCLUSIVE: The Mai-Kai Restoration Guide
Check out all the latest news, photos, video and deep details on the refurbishment and reopening of South Florida’s Polynesian Palace.
>>> COMPLETE COVERAGE FROM THE ATOMIC GROG

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SPECIAL FEATURE

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